Satellites are assessing the damage following a devastating earthquake affecting Turkey and numerous other countries on Monday (Feb. 6).
The magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck overnight in Turkey and Syria, flattening buildings and creating debris visible in satellite imagery from Planet, Maxar and other entities monitoring the region. Hours later, a second quake of magnitude 7.5 shook those countries. Both tremors were felt in nearby nations. The earthquake, which hit near the town of Gaziantep, was closely followed by numerous aftershocks – including one quake which was almost as large as the first.
At least 11,200 people are reported dead in the wake of the disaster, according to Time(opens in new tab), as a dangerous and urgent search for survivors continues. The first earthquake, the report added, was felt in regions as far afield as Lebanon, Cyprus, Greece, Israel and Palestine.
Rubble from several collapsed tower blocks which once stood in the neighborhood can be seen in one image from Islahiye, a small town of around 70,000 people near Turkey’s southern border with Syria. Trees inside a verdant park adjacent to the town’s Hacı Ali Ozturk mosque in Islahiye also appear to be completely uprooted. They are measured on a scale called the Moment Magnitude Scale (Mw). This has replaced the better known Richter scale, now considered outdated and less accurate.
The number attributed to an earthquake represents a combination of the distance the fault line has moved and the force that moved it.
A tremor of 2.5 or less usually cannot be felt, but can be detected by instruments. Quakes of up to five are felt and cause minor damage. The Turkish earthquake at 7.8 is classified as major and usually causes serious damage, as it has in this instance.
The International Space Station Expedition 68 crew has an orbit that brings it approximately 250 miles (400 kilometers) over Turkey. Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata shared a picture on Twitter(opens in new tab) from their orbital perch on Wednesday (Feb. 8).
Elsewhere, terra cotta tiles from the roofs of several homes were tossed to the ground in the town in the Gaziantep province that was once part of the Iron Age kingdom of Sam’al.
Just 10 miles north of Islahiye, archeologists including a team from the University of Chicago and Germany’s University of Tübingen, have been working with local people since 2006 to excavate a site at Zincirli Höyük for Bronze Age and Iron Age relics.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people in Turkey, Syria, and all the affected areas devastated by the earthquake,” Wakata wrote.
At the epicenter of Monday first earthquake in Nurdağı, a town of around 40,000, dozens of white tents — likely shelters for survivors and emergency crews — can be seen lining the roads and streets. Officials warned the death toll will likely rise in the mountainous region known for cotton, red pepper and wheat production, as many remain trapped under rubble in subzero temperatures at night.
Twitter accounts from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Space Agency have not yet posted Turkey images, which may take several days for the agencies to collect depending on available satellite time, their orbits and cloud cover.
The Earth’s crust is made up of separate bits, called plates, that nestle alongside each other. These plates often try to move but are prevented by the friction of rubbing up against an adjoining one. But sometimes the pressure builds until one plate suddenly jerks across, causing the surface to move.
In this case it was the Arabian plate moving northwards and grinding against the Anatolian plate.
Satellite imagery and orbital observations will be used alongside other data to help those coping with the disaster get resources where they are needed. A live map with geospatial data is available via the United Nations Satellite Centre website(opens in new tab).
As many as 23 million people, including around 1.4 million children, are likely to have been impacted, according to the World Health Organization.
The center announced Monday on Twitter(opens in new tab) that it has activated its mapping service, which “provides satellite image analysis during humanitarian emergencies related to disasters, complex emergencies and conflict situations.”
No satellites are directly operated by that center, but it does work with U.N. member states to gather imagery from their governmental agencies and private satellite operators. Maxar has pledged to provide imagery to “multiple organizations”, while Planet said it is planning to provide more updates in the coming days.